Shadow minister for racism speaks

February 13, 2002


MELBOURNE — Julia Gillard, Labor's shadow minister for immigration and ethnic affairs, told a February 6 public meeting attended by more than 200 people that she was "not ashamed of the decisions Labor took in the run up to the last [federal] election".

The predominantly ALP audience at the Fabian Society meeting was angered at Gillard's evasion of the humanitarian issues surrounding Australian government's treatment of refugees.

Although Gillard said very little in her speech, or in answer to very probing questions, the audience continued to press her on the ALP's support for mandatory detention of asylum seekers. She said that she did not visit the detention centres, particularly the Woomera centre, during the recent protests and hunger strikes by detainees because she was afraid of "destabilising a difficult situation".

Gillard said she supported the release of women and children from detention. Taking up this point in question time, the Greens' Pamela Curr asked why, if detention centres are not fit places for women and children, the ALP would allow men to remain there. Gillard avoided answering the question.

In answer to a question on Labor's position on the government's "Pacific solution", Gillard would only say that the federal government "had to be held accountable for the cost of that policy". Audience members retorted that this was a humanitarian not a budget issue.

Gillard argued that there "had to be some form of mandatory detention, even Sweden detains people while their identity and health are checked". This provoked boos and hisses.

From Green Left Weekly, February 13, 2002.
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